Smith’s 2nd-half explosion carries New Hope-Solebury past Dock in District 1-A semis

WARMINSTER >> It felt like it was merely a matter of time.

From practically the first tap of the game, New Hope-Solebury started asking questions of Christopher Dock’s defending. Far too often, the Pioneers didn’t have the answers. It was just poor finishing that kept them above water.

But it felt like a matter of time and it turned out it was just that. New Hope’s relentless pressure finally broke through and the Lions left William Tennent with a 4-0 win over Dock in a District 1 Class A boys soccer semifinal Tuesday night.

New Hope senior captain Riley Smith had a second half hat-trick in a less than 10 minute span to blow the game open.

“I was pleased overall with the first half,” Dock coach Matt Moyer said. “Once again (New Hope) proved to be a great team. The first matchup to the second matchup, they’re a quality team and a team that could really go far in districts and states.”

Two of New Hope’s three captains, Smith and Alex Lotier, anchored the top line of attack. They played like guys tasked with wearing the armband, making plenty of runs around Dock’s back line.

What they weren’t doing was finishing the chances they were generating. After an oddly frantic start, the Lions calmed down and Lotier put a shot on frame.

From there, he and Smith kept taking cracks, but they were off the mark. Smith pushed one wide and another high and Lotier followed with a wide take before both were denied by Dock keeper Andrew Walters.

“When we have a lot of shots and a lot of possession, we know something’s going to come soon,” Smith said. “We have a great defense so we’re never going to let up more than two goals per game so if we put in more than two, we’re able to win the game.”

With 10:41 left in the opening half, the duo finally connected. Smith again got in behind the defense with the ball at his feet and slid a ball across the six-yard box to an unmarked Lotier, who tapped it in.

Smith said a big factor in his success was Lotier, who latched on to the last man back for Dock and provided a target for the wings and midfielders to run off of. With a guy able to hold the ball, Smith could attack the fullbacks on the outside and slip in behind the central defenders.

The goal felt like it was coming, but it was all the Lions would get as they went into the half. Still, it seemed like enough.

“To be fair, Dock came out and gave us a tough game and we knew it would be a tough game,” New Hope coach Ollie Hilliker said. “When you get to playoffs, the regular season becomes irrelevant. We probably had enough chances in the first half to finish the game in that half but the finishing wasn’t quite as good and their goalkeeper made a couple of nice saves, so credit to him. Second half, we talked about finishing our chances and slotting the ball into the goal and that’s what they did.”

Dock’s midfield and attack was out of sorts from the start. Part of it was on New Hope, led by the third captain, defensive midfielder Aaron Nagg and part was on the Pioneers.

The midfield struggled to connect passes and win enough balls to keep pace with New Hope in possession. With the ball spending a lot of time on Lions feet, Dock had to chase the game.

“They were able to read where we trying to play balls into spaces,” Moyer said. “It was good anticipation in reading the game.”

New Hope started the second half much the same way as it played the first. The Lions had three corners in the first five minutes but couldn’t get anything on target.

Again their pressure led to a goal about midway through the second half. Sub Nolan Curran played a ball diagonally to Smith, who beat a man and slid the ball in near post under Walters with 27:51 to go.

That combo connected again with 20:47 left when Curran, this time further out, sent another diagonal ball to Smith. Lotier let the ball go by and after a Dock defender couldn’t get a foot to it, Smith ripped it from the left side to the far post.

Smith was only warming up.

The senior got himself a hat-trick with 18:32 left in the game. After New Hope ball into the box was dealt with, Smith policed it up on the right and finished with a class strike from about 35 yards out. The strike marked the end of his night.

“We knew we needed to finish the easy goals we had in the first half,” Smith said. “Once we got that first one, they just came easier.”

The defeat marked the second year in a row that New Hope eliminated the Pioneers in the semifinals. Dock was without sophomore standout Austin Kratz, sidelined by a foot injury.

Dock loses seven seniors off its roster, all of them starters Tuesday night.

Sergey Curtis played the entire second half for Dock with his head wrapped up after a first-half collision left him cut open and bloodied.

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